August 19, 2007
Fishing could lead to people going belly-up
Don't eat what's caught in Meadowlands, experts say
By John Dunphy
With biodiversity on the rise and the level of heavy metals in the Hackensack River decreasing, it may seem that fish in these waters are edible. However, the fish that occupy local waters are still contaminated and their consumption could still lead to a litany of ailments.
"The food chain is contaminated," said Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan. "And that contamination works its way up."
Sheehan said that he does not want to keep people from fishing. Fishing for recreation is still an acceptable practice. In fact, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) sponsors a program called "Hooked on Fishing; Not on Drugs." It is only when people eat that which they catch that problems can arise.
What's out there
The species of marine life that currently call the Meadowlands home are bluefish, American eels, striped bass, white catfish, white perch and crabs.
A problem that arises is that instead of issuing a statement that says no fish from the area may be eaten, the NJDEP has stated on their website that certain types of marine life may be consumed, but only in small amounts and as infrequently as possible.
The advisory states that American eels are generally safe on the basis that a person only eats them at four intervals throughout the year. If a bluefish is caught, and it's bigger than 6 lb.s/ 24 oz., then it is considered a high risk. Anything less, and the general public may eat it once a month, according to the site.
The site does say that the consumption of fish that are contaminated with dioxin, PCB's and mercury, all of which are found in the Hackensack River, may cause birth defects if eaten by pregnant women or women who wish to become pregnant. Also, eating the fish can be extremely hazardous if eaten by children or by mothers who are nursing.
Since fishing itself is not illegal, very little can be done to stop the consumption of fish from the Meadowlands aside from simple education.
The NJDEP does put out a series of advisories alerting people to the dangers of eating fish from the water. Also, it is illegal to go crabbing. The blue claw crab, which is common in the area, is considered an extreme threat to a person's health.
"It's very hard to point a finger at any particular individual and say, 'They got sick because they ate fish,' " said Sheehan.
Due to the level of pollutants in the New Jersey area, any number of health problems may arise with no definitive source.
"It's more of a risk management issue," said Sheehan.
One major problem that Sheehan suspects might lead people to dine on local fish is that they look and smell just like ordinary fish would.
The chemicals that might have seeped into their tissue do not necessarily affect their taste, and an unsuspecting person may not even know what they're eating is actually contaminated.
For more information on the NJDEP, go to their website at www.state.nj.us/dep or call 1-877-927-6337.
To learn more about the Riverkeeper, go to www.hackensackriverkeeper.org or call 201-968-0808.